Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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Defendant Rural Water District No. 4, Douglas County, Kansas (“Douglas-4”) appealed a district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff City of Eudora, Kansas (“Eudora”) in this declaratory judgment action. Douglas-4 and Eudora disputed which entity could provide water service to certain areas near Eudora (the “Service Area”). In 2002, Douglas-4 was the water service provider for the Service Area, but was running low on water. Douglas-4 decided to purchase water from an adjacent rural water district, “Johnson-6.” The project required laying new pipes and building additional pumping stations at an estimated cost of $1.25 million. To finance the project, Douglas-4 received initial approval for a $1.25 million loan from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) with a fixed rate and twenty-year term. That same year, Eudora annexed the Service Area. The annexation positioned Eudora to potentially assume Douglas-4’s water customers. Understanding that it was facing a potential loss of customers, Douglas-4’s governing board reduced its KDHE loan to $1 million and sought the remaining $250,000 from a private, USDA-guaranteed loan. Douglas-4 believed that such a loan would come with federal protection under 7 U.S.C. 1926(b), which prevented municipalities from assuming water customers while a USDA-guaranteed loan was in repayment. Douglas-4 eventually secured a USDA-guaranteed loan for $250,000 from First State Bank & Trust and proceeded with the Johnson-6 project. Both the KDHE loan and the USDA-guaranteed loan had twenty-year repayment terms, beginning in 2004 and ending in 2024. Between 2004 and 2007, Douglas-4 and Eudora entered into negotiations in an attempt to resolve the disputed Service Area, but the discussions were not successful. Douglas-4 filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas to prevent Eudora from taking its water customers. The jury returned a special verdict in favor of Douglas-4, concluding the loan guaranteed by the federal government was necessary, and Eudora appealed. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "City of Eudora v. Rural Water District No. 4" on Justia Law

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The Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) closed an area of Recapture Canyon to all-terrain vehicles (“ATVs”) in 2007, to prevent soil damage and the spoliation of archeological resources near the trail. Frustrated with what had been billed as a temporary closure, in 2014, certain individuals planned an ATV ride to protest the BLM’s closure order. The ride took place in May 2014. Defendant-appellant Phil Lyman, a County Commissioner for San Juan County, was a major promoter of the ride. He was charged along with Defendant-appellant Monte Wells in a misdemeanor criminal information with operating ATVs on lands closed to such use by the BLM and conspiring to do so. A jury found both men guilty of the charged offenses, for which they were sentenced them to terms of probation and brief terms of imprisonment. They were also ordered to pay restitution for the costs of assessing and repairing the damage that the protest ride caused to the land. On appeal, defendants brought a variety of challenges to their convictions and the restitution order: asking ask for a new trial because they claimed a reasonable observer allegedly would have questioned the district court judge’s impartiality (the judge did ultimately recuse before their sentencing). Furthermore, they appealed the denial of their motions to dismiss; they made a “Brady” claim stemming from the government’s failure to produce a map showing a possible public right-of-way through Recapture Canyon (which allegedly would have called into question whether the BLM’s 2007 closure order was lawful); they challenged the district court’s restitution order and the amount they were ordered to pay; and, lastly, Lyman argued he was denied constitutionally adequate counsel. The Tenth Circuit found none of defendants’ arguments were grounds for reversal of the district court’s judgment, and affirmed. View "United States v. Wells" on Justia Law

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This case presented a question of whether a large-scale excavation project constituted “mining” under the pertinent federal regulations that address mineral development on Indian land. When an entity engages in “mining” of minerals owned by the Osage Nation, a federally approved lease must be obtained from the tribe. The Osage Mineral Council (OMC), acting on behalf of the Osage Nation, appealed the award of summary judgment to Defendant Osage Wind, LLC (Osage Wind), arguing that Osage Wind engaged in “mining” without procuring a federally approved mineral lease. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has defined “mining” as the “science, technique, and business of mineral development[.]” The Tenth Circuit held the term “mineral development” had a broad meaning, including commercial mineral extractions and offsite relocations, but also encompass action upon the extracted minerals for the purpose of exploiting the minerals themselves on site. The Court held Osage Wind’s extraction, sorting, crushing, and use of minerals as part of its excavation work constituted “mineral development,” thereby requiring a federally approved lease which Osage Wind failed to obtain. Accordingly, the Court reversed the award of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Osage Wind" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants WildEarth Guardians and Sierra Club challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to approve four coal leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Plaintiffs brought an Administrative Procedure Act (APA) claim arguing that the BLM failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it concluded that issuing the leases would not result in higher national carbon dioxide emissions than would declining to issue them. The district court upheld the leases. The Tenth Circuit held the BLM’s Environmental Impact Studies and Records Of Decisions were arbitrary and capricious because they omitted data pertinent to its choice with respect to issuing the leases, and thereby informing the public of its rationale. The Tenth Circuit remanded with instructions to the BLM to revise its Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) and Records of Decision (RODs). The Court did not vacate the resulting leases. View "WildEarth Guardians v. Bureau of Land Management" on Justia Law

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Under the federal environmental laws, the owner of property contaminated with hazardous substances or a person who arranges for the disposal of hazardous substances may be strictly liable for subsequent clean-up costs. The United States owned national forest lands in New Mexico that were mined over several generations by Chevron Mining Inc. The question presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was whether the United States is a “potentially responsible party” (PRP) for the environmental contamination located on that land. The Tenth Circuit concluded that under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), the United States is an “owner,” and, therefore, a PRP, because it was strictly liable for its equitable portion of the costs necessary to remediate the contamination arising from mining activity on federal land. The Court also concluded the United States cannot be held liable as an “arranger” of hazardous substance disposal because it did not own or possess the substances in question. The Court reversed the district court in part and affirmed in part, remanding for further proceedings to determine the United States’ equitable share, if any, of the clean-up costs. View "Chevron Mining v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s denial of their request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the drilling of certain oil and gas wells in the Mancos Shale formation of the San Juan Basin in New Mexico. The district court concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to satisfy three of the four elements required to obtain a preliminary injunction: (1) Plaintiffs had not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims; (2) the balance of harms weighed against Plaintiffs; and (3) Plaintiffs failed to show that the public interest favored an injunction. Finding no reversible error in the district court's denial, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Dine Citizens v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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Petitioners American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, The Cloud Foundation, Return to Freedom, Carol Walker, and Kimerlee Curyl filed this action against Sally Jewell, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, and Neil Kornze, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), seeking review of BLM’s decision to remove wild horses in certain areas of public land located in southwestern Wyoming within an area known as the “Checkerboard.” The Checkerboard was comprised of over one million acres of generally high desert land, and “derives its name from the pattern of alternating sections of private and public land which it comprises.” Under a 2013 consent decree, BLM agreed to remove all wild horses located on private lands in the Checkerboard. BLM maintained that “due to the unique pattern of land ownership” within the Checkerboard, “and as recognized in the Consent Decree, it is practically infeasible for the BLM to meet its obligations under Section 4 of the [Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act ("the Act")] while removing wild horses solely from the private lands sections of the [C]heckerboard.” Petitioners alleged, in pertinent part, that the removal violated the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). The district court rejected these claims. Petitioners appealed. The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding it was "improper" for BLM to construe the unambiguous terms “privately owned land” and “private lands,” as used in Section 4 of the Act, to include the public land sections of the Checkerboard. And, in turn, with respect to the FLMPA claims, it was improper for BLM to conduct what it described as a Section 4 gather on the public land sections of the Checkerboard. "By doing so, BLM violated the duties that Section 3 clearly imposes on it with respect to wild horses found on the public land sections of the Checkerboard." The Court reversed the district court and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "American Wild Horse v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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The Court consolidated two cases in this opinion. Plaintiffs in both cases complained they were denied due process when the Board of County Commissioners of Elbert County (the Board) required them to rezone their properties before they could subdivide them. They argued that after the Board lost the documents reflecting the prior comprehensive zoning ordinance, it created new documents without following proper procedures for enacting an ordinance and covered up their misconduct. "Perhaps these allegations state a claim under Colorado law." After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found that were not deprived of their right to due process under the United States Constitution. View "Onyx Properties v. Elbert Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

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Zia Shadows, LLC operated a mobile-home park in Las Cruces, New Mexico, under a special-use permit from the City. In late 2000, a dispute over water-rights fees arose between Zia Shadows and the City, and principal Alex Garth protested these fees and lodged written and oral complaints with the City Council. This appeal arose out of that zoning dispute. Zia Shadows and its principals, Alex and William Garth (collectively, Zia Shadows), filed suit in federal district court, alleging the City’s delays in approval of a zoning request (and the conditions ultimately attached to the approval) violated Zia Shadows’ rights to due process and equal protection. Zia Shadows also alleged the City’s actions were taken in retaliation for Zia Shadows’ public criticisms of the City. The district court granted summary judgment to the City on Zia Shadows’ due-process and equal-protection claims, and a jury found in favor of the City on Zia Shadows’ First Amendment retaliation claim. Zia Shadows argued on appeal to the Tenth Circuit: (1) that the district court erred in granting summary judgment; (2) the district court abused its discretion both in its instruction of the jury and its refusal to strike a juror; and (3) the jury’s verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment, concluding Zia Shadows failed to establish the requisite elements of its due-process and equal-protection claims and did not demonstrate reversible error in either the proceedings or verdict at trial. View "Zia Shadows, LLC v. City of Las Cruces" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned two suits: one in state and one in federal court, and statutory limitations on the power of the federal court to enjoin the state court case. In the federal case, the Utah Attorney General and the Board of Tooele County Commissioners sued the federal government under the Quiet Title Act, attempting to quiet title in favor of Utah for hundreds of rights of way in Tooele County, Utah. Five environmental groups opposed this suit, and the federal district court permitted the groups to intervene. In the state court case, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Michael Abdo, a Tooele County resident, claimed that the Utah officials lacked authority under state law to prosecute the quiet-title action in federal court. The Utah officials asked the federal court to enjoin the Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Abdo from prosecuting the state-court case. The federal district court granted the request and entered a temporary restraining order enjoining the Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Abdo for an indefinite period of time. The Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Abdo appealed, raising two issues: (1) whether the Tenth Circuit had jurisdiction to hear the appeal; and (2) did the federal district court have the authority to enjoin the state-court suit? After concluding it had jurisdiction to hear this appeal, the Tenth Circuit then concluded that the federal district court did not have authority to enjoin the Utah state court. "The All Writs Act grants a district court expansive authority to issue 'all writs necessary.' But the Anti-Injunction Act generally prohibits federal courts from enjoining state-court suits." An exception exists when an injunction is "in aid of" the federal court’s exercise of its jurisdiction. This exception applies when: (1) the federal and state court exercise in rem or quasi in rem jurisdiction over the same res; and (2) the federal court is the first to take possession of the res. These circumstances are absent because the state-court action was neither in rem nor quasi in rem. Thus, the district court’s order violated the Anti-Injunction Act. View "Tooele County v. United States" on Justia Law